A New Chapter Ahead

It is with a heart full of gratitude for the people of Ossining that I announce I will not seek a fourth term for mayor in 2020. After thoughtful consideration, I have decided that I will start a new chapter. During my time as mayor the village has become greener, stronger, better connected, more welcoming to all, and economically thriving.

In this final year of my third term as mayor, I will continue to be progressive on the environment, housing and social justice policies; conservative on taxes; and transformative on how we communicate with the people we serve.

Doing the right thing for the environment can also be the smart financial choice. Installing LED streetlights throughout the village produces six-figure savings every year for taxpayers. Further, our decision to become one of the first municipalities to opt-in to 100% green energy through community choice aggregation, expanded Ossining’s impact on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. My role as a member of the steering committee that created Sustainable Westchester, and as a board member of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Coalition before that, has kept Ossining at the forefront of energy saving programs.

I have led an innovative and comprehensive approach to economic development that honors our commitment to preserving cultural and socioeconomic diversity. The program we created to establish affordable housing units within existing buildings is the first of its kind in New York. Long before the county released the results of their recent study, village policy has been influenced by our own housing needs assessment.

My commitment to make everyone feel welcome in our community, led to Ossining’s first raising of the LGBTQ rainbow flag for pride at Village Hall, as well as becoming the first community in New York to pass a gender-neutral bathroom signage policy. As an advocate for our undocumented residents, I championed the campaign to allow all drivers to be eligible to be licensed in New York State.

Holding the line on taxes is one of the most significant ways that we can keep Ossining relatively affordable. During the budget negotiations my first year as mayor, I introduced the idea of a 0% tax rate increase. The suggestion was unheard of at the time. We weren’t yet in a fiscal position to keep it totally flat, though we came close. That mindset put us on the right path. This week we will vote to have a 0% tax rate increase for the fourth year in a row.

I have transformed village communications. Initiatives like Open Office Hours, the Monday Mayor’s Message, Weekly Walks, and our redesigned website and social media presence have been effective ways to reach the people of Ossining. I began holding Tuesday Open Office Hours my first month in office, and it has proven to be a valuable opportunity to connect with residents one-on-one. The Monday email I send has been a consistent means for letting folks know the latest happenings in village government from the convenience of their inbox.

Thank you to everyone who joined me on a Weekly Walk as I experienced every block of the village on foot. The journey was about much more than exercise, or even the personal connections with residents who took the time to tell me what their neighborhood means to them. The experience continues to serve me in decisions about how zoning and planning changes will impact residents for generations to come.

Headshot forced smileWhen I took office, my sons were in pre-k. Today they are in middle school, and college is right around the corner. I will be exploring opportunities for a job that contributes financially in a significant way for my family. Though it will be difficult to find another position as rewarding and meaningful as mayor, it is time for me to start thinking about what is next.

Serving in local elected office is personally and professionally fulfilling, and perhaps I will again some day. For now I am excited to work with a new village board, dedicated staff, and our highly engaged community for a productive 2020.

 

Seeking a Beloved Community: Ossining’s Response to Hate

“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
~Dr. Maya Angelou

Ossining is still reacting to news of an incident that occurred yesterday at the high school where a swastika and the n-word were crudely scrawled on a bathroom wall. While the Ossining Police Department investigates, students, teachers, parents, and the whole community are asking, what can we do to prevent future acts of anti-semitism and racism?

We pride ourselves on being an inclusive community that celebrates diversity. In many ways we are further along the path of equity and social justice than a generation ago, or than many other communities that do not have the benefit the rich diversity that defines Ossining.

love people silhouettes letters
Photo by burak kostak on Pexels.com

Let us strip this act of its intention, and instead use it to strengthen our resolve to achieve a beloved community based on justice, equity, and love of our neighbors. Hate symbols are a call to violence and division. It is essential that we take seriously pencil marks on a wall, in order to prevent an escalation. Instead of allowing this incident to inspire greater acts of hate, let us acknowledge this incident as the latest call to action.

Just hours before the incident at OHS was discovered, I was speaking with local leaders about steps we can take as a whole community to prevent exactly this kind of anti-semitic and racist behavior. One step in the right direction would be for Albany to pass proposed Senate Bill #S6648 and Assembly Bill #A08545 which would require education about symbols of hate to be incorporated into public school curriculum. Both the Town and Village Boards have unanimously supported resolutions urging Albany legislators to pass the proposals.

Hate has no place here. Town and Village officials are committed to working closely with local organizations to extend education and programming beyond school buildings and kitchen tables. Partnering with all willing groups and individuals is essential for attaining a truly beloved community.

love people silhouettes letters

Election Day(s) & Ballot Thoughts

When are you planning to vote this year? Did you know that early voting begins this Saturday, October 26 and continues through Sunday, November 3? I recently posted this brief video spreading the good word about early voting. Ossining folks who want to vote early will go to the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center. If you want to vote on the traditional Election Day, November 5, head to your regular polling place. Click here for FAQs on the Westchester Board of Elections website.

In Ossining, even more interesting than the candidate races this year, are the ballot proposals asking us to consider changing some elected positions to become appointed positions. I generally do not publicly express my views on Town government policy making. I try to stay in my Village lane, and appreciate that my colleagues in the Town try to stay in theirs. However, I do frequently let people know how I am voting and why, and ballot proposals are no exception.

I am voting YES on the ballot proposals. Electing people to serve in administrative positions that have no legislative or policy making responsibility is a quaint throwback a time when town governments were smaller and less complex. While Ossining has been pretty lucky in our election of individuals to these positions, the community would be better served by a policy that prioritizes having experienced professionals leading departments. Click here to read a brief article summarizing the proposals and putting them in the context of similar actions taken by other towns. For greater detail about the proposals, view this video of the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters about the proposals.

All of the candidates running for Village and Town positions this year are unopposed. I don’t think this is an ideal scenario. I have persevered through hard fought campaigns, and I believe I’m a better mayor because of those races. Campaigns force a candidate to consider deeply their positions and goals, so the winner enters office on day one with a clarity of purpose. That said, if every other year an official is focused largely on a political campaign, the amount of actual governing that can take place is limited. Thanks for indulging my brief tangent on a topic worthy of thoughtful discussion in its own right. Now back to this year’s election…

Early Voting image

I’m looking forward to welcoming Bob Fritsche and Omar Lopez to the Village Board on January 1. I’m also supporting the Democratic slate in the Town—Dana Levenberg who is seeking to be reelected as Town Supervisor, and Liz Feldman and Greg Meyer as Councilmembers. Plus, I’ll cast a vote of support for Ben Leavitt, our current Town Prosecutor running unopposed for Town Judge, and Sue Donnelly running unopposed for Town Clerk.

For County Legislator, I’m supporting Catherine Borgia. She is one candidate this year who has a competitor. One other familiar name who will have my vote is Nancy Quinn Koba. Nancy is currently our Town Judge and is seeking election to become a NYS Supreme Court Justice. Click here to enter your address into the League of Women Voters site and read about all the candidates and ballot proposals.

I’m excited about early voting. I’m optimistic that it will significantly increase voter participation. With so many opportunities for occasional voters to be reminded to go to the polls on a day that’s convenient for them, we may see a significant increase in turnout. You can help! Remind your social media followers, email contacts, coworkers and neighbors to get out and vote!

 

9/11 Remarks: Let us once again be an inspiration to the world

On a beautiful Tuesday morning eighteen years ago, the world changed. Let us honor the thousands who were killed on the day of the attacks, and the thousands more who are still being killed by the lingering impacts of the toxic dust from Ground Zero. The best way to honor them is by heeding the lessons of that turning point in our nation and the world.

When I speak with my sons about 9/11, I focus on the stories of individuals, people they know and people they can connect with. We talk about how this most horrible, violent, and hateful act could inspire the most generous, loving, and heroic response.

I took my boys to the 9/11 memorial and museum a couple of years ago. We focused on the stories of the people: the people who ran into the towers; the people who lined up to help with rescue and recovery efforts; the people who lined up to donate blood in hopes that more people would be rescued; the people who died in that field in Pennsylvania, sacrificing themselves to deny the terrorists one more target to destroy that day; and we talk about Arthur Jones, the Ossining dad who never came home to his family, and how we keep his spirit alive every time we visit the park named in his memory.

I think it’s normal for all of us at any age to focus on the very best of humanity that was expressed in the wake of 9/11, rather than the worst of humanity. For a period of time eighteen years ago, we all looked at each other and saw the light and the love that courses through every living being, wherever and whoever they are in this world. And the world looked at America, and they were with us. The world was inspired by us, not because we were attacked, but because of how we as a people responded.

Eighteen years later, we have a whole generation of young people who have no living recollection of that day. They have lived their entire lives in a post 9/11 world.

9.11 ceremony
Photo by Councilwoman Liz Feldman

There are days for me, and perhaps for us all, when I feel angry and despondent that we have failed to heed the lessons of 9/11. And how could any of us not sometimes feel we have failed as a society? But living each day driven by anger and despair is no way to live. And it doesn’t take us to a better place. How can we as people lead America to a place where we are, once again, an inspiration to the rest of the world?

It is my most deeply felt hope that through gatherings like this, and by sharing stories with young people who only know of 9/11 as an historic event, that we can be part of taking America, and the world, in a better direction.

Let us refocus on the greatest lessons of 9/11. Let us foster a world where our children are inspired by the heroic acts, and the profound expressions of humanity that can unite us in a world with greater peace and empathy for people who look different, and worship differently from us.

Eighteen years ago today 19 men hijacked commercial airplanes and turned them into weapons. I say 19 men very deliberately. Let us be careful not to elevate the status of the terrorists to super villains as if they possess powers greater than any other human being. Instead, let us be inspired to acknowledge the power within each of us, and each of our children, and every person in this community, and this nation and this planet to choose love instead of hate, peace instead of violence, empathy instead of ignorance, and action instead of apathy.

This park is filled with people who love their families, their neighbors, and their community so much, they have trained themselves to run toward danger and possibly sacrifice themselves so that we can all be safer. That is exactly the kind of spirit that can inspire this generation and the next to use the power within each of us to achieve greater acts of love, peace, empathy and action.

Thank you to the Ossining and Briarcliff first responders who bring our community together every year for this moving ceremony. Let us all be inspired by the greatest versions of ourselves, the versions we expressed and witnessed eighteen years ago. Thank you for making sure we never forget.

 

 

Building Trust in a Climate of Fear

Carolyn Mackie Oss PicFostering a relationship of trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community is critical to the safety of all Ossining residents. How do we achieve that at a time when federal immigration policy is dictated by tweets that foment fear and division?

At the Thursday, July 25, Village Board work session, we will discuss a policy regarding the Ossining Police Department’s interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It is my hope that everyone approaches this discussion with a sincere desire to work together so that we can find the best path forward for Ossining. In this climate where federal policy-making is recklessly conducted on social media, the importance of local government proactively and responsibly establishing a thoughtful policy related to interactions with ICE, is strikingly evident.

Every community must find its own best path for building trust between local law enforcement and residents. Is maintaining communication between OPD and ICE best for Ossining? Is eliminating communication with ICE better for our residents? How much do we all understand about the current practices of local law enforcement and the practices of ICE? There are a number of questions to ask that will inform responsible policy making.

Comments by residents and Village officials at the last public meeting were emotional and prompt questions that cut to the core of who we are as a country and a community.

How can we not respond emotionally to this current state of our nation where children are separated from parents for months, asylum seekers are detained in crowded cages under horrifying and inhumane conditions, and threats to round up thousands of people are a top priority of our president? These actions are not just felt by strangers in some far away place, they are felt deeply and personally right here in our village.

How does a local law enforcement agency responsibly interact with a federal agency that is guided by a president who rules with a doctrine of hate, racism and fear mongering? Is any communication by the Ossining Police Department with ICE a tacit approval of the president’s cruel and misguided immigration policy? Or does this communication actually benefit local families that are targeted by ICE?

My job as mayor, and the job of all Village officials, is to keep the people of Ossining safe, and to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity.

What is the role of the Village Board in determining the policy for how OPD engages with ICE, or any federal law enforcement agency? Establishing big picture policy for every department is the responsibility of the Village Board. And the Village Charter tasks us, as the Board of Police Commissioners, with an even greater responsibility for oversight of law enforcement than of any other Village department.

At last week’s meeting Chief Sylvester explained OPD’s current policy of maintaining communication with ICE, and having local officers observe the movements of ICE when they are in Ossining. Village Trustees and I expressed concerns and questioned the benefits and costs of this approach.

In preparation for Thursday’s discussion, officials are encouraged to seek input from local law enforcement, community organizations, and residents. Our goal is to come to a consensus on a plan forward, so that a resolution can be on the agenda at an August legislative session. Residents are encouraged to share questions and thoughts with the Village Board at bot@villageofossining.org.

I believe there is genuinely a shared goal of seeking to strengthen trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community. Achieving that goal will only happen if we are all working together in a collaborative, not combative, manner.

 

A Progressive Solution for Affordable Housing in Ossining

An Open Letter from Mayor Victoria Gearity, Trustee Rika Levin, and Trustee Manuel Quezada

There have been many voices in the public discussion of ETPA, the NYS rent stabilization program. We have actively sought to learn from articles, workshops, stakeholder meetings, community members, and housing and land use experts. A variety of options were considered as part of this process. The option to establish a class of buildings is built into the ETPA legislation.

On Monday, February 25 (a revised date due to snow) we will be voting on a resolution that will change how ETPA applies to our community. This is a compromise solution that minimizes the greatest downsides of ETPA, while addressing the needs of Ossining residents.

What will change about ETPA in Ossining?

The resolution we are voting on this week states that ETPA will be repealed for buildings with 6-20 units. These mom and pop building owners tend to be residents in our community, and do not have the staff and attorneys needed to navigate the ETPA bureaucracy.

ETPA will continue to be in place for buildings with greater than 20 units, which represents a total of over 1,000 units. Owners of buildings with greater than 20 units may choose to join a class of buildings that is exempt from ETPA. One of the most inequitable aspects of ETPA as it was passed in Ossining on September 5, is that it is building-based, not people-based. This new progressive forward-thinking solution will allow 20% of a building to be set aside for tenants who demonstrate a financial need.

How does creating a new class of buildings minimize the financial downside of ETPA?

Some owners of large buildings may choose to continue the ETPA registration process that began last fall. These larger buildings have staff able to navigate the bureaucratic process of getting allowable rent increases for property renovations and other incentives. While over time the assessed value of these buildings will be deflated, there will likely be fewer ETPA buildings impacting the village’s overall assessed value. If half of the eligible units remain in the program, Ossining would still have more ETPA units than almost any other village or town in Westchester.

Some owners will choose to join the class of buildings that provides 20% of their units to residents who, for a family of four, earn in the range of $40,000-$58,000/year. Buildings in this class will be helping to provide affordability for a large segment of our community that struggles to meet their basic housing expenses.

How does ETPA undermine progress in upgrading substandard housing?

Smaller buildings are the ones that are most likely to be purchased by our local affordable housing nonprofit. In recent years IFCA has purchased substandard buildings and transformed them into high quality affordable units—a win-win for Ossining. If ETPA were to remain in its current form, it would undermine progress on this front.

The state regulations inherent in ETPA prevent investment in existing substandard buildings. The margins for the return on investment in ventures like these are tight, given the high price of housing and the costs associated with bringing these buildings up to code. Having the ability to control the rents that will be charged, even for apartments intended to be rented affordably, is essential for minimizing the financial risk. The intention of ETPA is not to prevent this kind of investment from happening. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does. Although ETPA allows for the exemption of buildings that undergo substantive rehabilitation, they can only be considered for an exemption from rent regulations after the project is completed. Lending agencies who finance the project cannot take that risk.  Similarly, existing owners who want to improve their buildings are not guaranteed that they will be able to cover the costs of such improvements (i.e. new, energy efficient HVAC systems).

How do we provide local support for tenants?

We recognize that not all landlords treat tenants or properties with equal regard. For any tenant who has issues and is not in an ETPA building, we encourage you to contact the Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC) through the village website. This council has been strengthened in recent years to become a valuable tool in resolving landlord-tenant issues. The LTRC is also developing tools for educating tenants on their rights.

What is the next action step for economic development and housing synergy?

This week’s vote is only one step in a holistic approach to ensuring that our economic development and housing actions work in synergy. Even most ETPA advocates acknowledge that it isn’t the solution to housing affordability for an economically diverse community like ours. Next week’s Village Board work session will focus on potentially developing an under-utilized village owned property into a mixed-use mixed-income project that would provide commercial space as well as homes for families roughly earning from about $35,000/year to about $95,000/year.

We are fortunate to have the support of affordable housing experts from county and state government, as well as local and area nonprofits as we navigate this process. One of the first steps in any discussion about development is to reach out to the Ossining School District. We have had a preliminary discussion with Superintendent Sanchez about how the schools might be part of this project in a more direct way than ever before, and we’ll be meeting again soon to discuss more concrete options.

How can you be involved?

On Monday, February 25 at 7:30pm at the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center, 95 Broadway, is our legislative session when we will vote on the ETPA compromise resolution described above. There is an opportunity to speak about the ETPA resolution prior to the Village Board vote. To read the full agenda, click here.

On Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30pm at Village Hall, 16 Croton Avenue, is the work session when we will consider a potential mixed-use mixed-income development on village owned property currently used as an organic matter transfer station on Water Street. Work sessions are forums when the Village Board meets with staff and experts to get informed on potential action to be taken, and generally is not open for public comment. However, the public is invited to attend in person or to watch the meeting on television, the village website, or YouTube.

An update to the Village’s Comprehensive Plan is getting under way. To learn more about a comprehensive plan and how you might apply to be part of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, click here.V R M pic

Sincerely,

Mayor Victoria Gearity

Trustee Rika Levin

Trustee Manuel Quezada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ETPA Fails to Address Our Greatest Housing Challenges, and Actually Makes Them Worse

The Village of Ossining’s two greatest housing challenges are substandard housing and an inadequate supply of affordable housing for the people who need it most. ETPA does not address these concerns, and actually makes these problems worse.

There has been a lot of misleading and misguided messaging surrounding the ETPA conversation. The good news for people concerned about preserving and expanding affordability of housing in Ossining, is that there are effective actions we can take.

Here are three things related to ETPA that you need to know:

  1. Ossining can and should do a better job at improving housing conditions and affordability for the people who need it most;
  2. ETPA undermines progress on Ossining’s two greatest housing challenges—substandard housing and not enough affordable housing; and
  3. ETPA actually makes Ossining LESS affordable for most residents, including most tenants.

Read below for much more detail on each of these, as well as information on two upcoming meetings you are encouraged to attend.

Cropped pic of housingHow can Ossining do a better job at improving housing conditions and affordability for the people who need it most? Now is the time for Ossining to follow the policy recommendations of the Village’s 2017 Housing Needs Assessment. ETPA was created 40+ years ago to respond to the housing crisis of the 1970s. The Village’s Housing Needs Assessment provides strategic recommendations to address the housing challenges of our community today. The report directs us to consider ETPA only after first implementing policy recommendations #1-7 including economic development, code enforcement, expanding affordable housing development, and transit options. Unfortunately, in 2018 the majority of the village board at that time chose to put aside progress on these strategies and instead focus on ETPA. The resolution to enable ETPA was passed in September, but the implementation is scarcely underway as the majority of landlords aren’t yet even registered with the NYS department that manages the program.

How does ETPA undermine progress on our two greatest housing challenges—substandard housing and not enough affordable housing? The state regulations inherent in ETPA prevent investment in existing substandard buildings. The margins for the return on investment in ventures like these are tight, given the high price of housing and the costs associated with bringing these buildings up to code. Having the ability to control the rents that will be charged, even for apartments intended to be rented affordably, is essential for minimizing the financial risk. The intention of ETPA is not to prevent this kind of investment from happening. Unfortunately, the reality is that it does. Although ETPA allows for the exemption of buildings that undergo substantive rehabilitation, they can only be considered for an exemption from rent regulations after the project is completed. Lending agencies who finance the project cannot take that risk.  Similarly, existing owners who want to improve their buildings are not guaranteed that they will be able to cover the costs of such improvements (i.e. new, energy efficient HVAC systems).

How does ETPA make Ossining less affordable for most residents, including most tenants? The intentions of ETPA are excellent—protect tenants and keep Ossining affordable. The reality is that ETPA would make our community less affordable for most residents, including most tenants. Though Ossining is touted by Westchester magazine as one of the ten most affordable communities in the county, our effective tax rate is one of the highest. Cultural and economic diversity is core to the village’s identity, and one of the reasons people choose to move here and stay here. Working to hold the line on property taxes is a critical component for working to keep Ossining affordable. Over time ETPA lowers taxes for the buildings in that program, resulting in the tax burden being shifted to the rest of the tax payers, including landlords for most Ossining tenants.

Housing policy is incredibly complex, and we look to higher levels of government to do their part to improve programs that support local efforts to keep our community affordable. Westchester County legislators have been trying for years to get a county-wide housing needs assessment underway. That is now happening. In fact, everyone is invited to attend a public forum hosted by the County on February 11 from 6-8PM at Ossining’s Community Center. I look forward to learning the recommendations of the County’s study due out later this year. With the change in control of the NYS senate, it’s possible there may be improvements to the ETPA program. The ETPA legislation has seen little evolution in over 40 years. If the program substantially improves, it may be worth reconsidering it for Ossining at that time.

The village is moving forward with the recommendations of the Housing Needs Assessment. One area where progress was made last year was implementing a stronger and more active Landlord Tenant Relations Council (LTRC)—an element of policy recommendation #2. This council is made up of local tenants, landlords, and residents and provides education and mediation services that can prevent cases from ever going to court. If you know someone in need of assistance related to any rental property, please encourage them to seek the help of the LTRC. The LTRC Intake Form can be found by clicking here, and on the village website.

One of the greatest downsides to ETPA is that it is tied to the size and age of a building, not the need of a tenant. Ossining has a wide range of housing options, including a lot of rental properties and an older housing stock. Many of our residents with the greatest need for safe affordable housing are living in non-ETPA eligible multi-family homes that are substandard and overcrowded. Improving these conditions is addressed partly by improved code enforcement, and partly by people and agencies willing to invest in Ossining.

If you care about improving housing conditions and affordability in Ossining and have not yet read the Housing Needs Assessment available on the village website, I encourage you to. This study was advocated for by ETPA proponents. Unfortunately, when the study was complete and the recommendations didn’t fit their narrative, they cast the findings aside. If you want to be part of the solution, join us at an information session on February 28, at 7pm at the Ossining Public Library to learn about the village’s update to our Comprehensive Plan and consider applying to serve on the Comprehensive Plan Committee. Zoning laws are derived from the Comprehensive Plan, and revising these codes is policy recommendation #6 of the Housing Needs Assessment.

Though much of the rhetoric on the topic of ETPA has been inflammatory and divisive, the fact that the community is engaging in a conversation about housing affordability is helpful in clarifying our shared priorities. I am proud to serve a village where residents care deeply about our neighbors and value preserving economic diversity through progressive housing initiatives. ETPA is not the solution, in fact, it undermines progress on our greatest housing challenges. But there are actions we can take. Ossining is moving forward with a holistic approach recommended by the Housing Needs Assessment.

 

The Community is Grieving

Ossining is grieving the tragic loss of Gregory Jackson. This weekend friends, family and community members gathered for a vigil. Hundreds have contributed to a GoFundMe page set up in his memory, already exceeding the campaign’s goal.

The loss of a life so young forces us to face mortality head-on, and hopefully we learn to cherish each day more deeply. As a young woman I attended too many funerals for classmates and friends who died tragically. My heart aches for Gregory’s family and friends.

Gregory JacksonI am not someone who speaks frequently about my faith, but today I will. “Holding someone in the light” is an expression Quakers use to describe the intention of our prayer. Sometimes I also find it helpful to light a candle as I focus my prayer and open my heart to the light. Today I light a candle and pray for the memory of Gregory Jackson, may the lives he touched be inspired by his spirit each day. I pray for his family, may they grow stronger and closer through the bonds of shared pain as well as shared gratitude for experiencing 21 years with Gregory. I pray for justice, may the law enforcement investigation result in a conviction that makes us all safer. I pray for our community, may the outpouring of love in this moment of intense grief foster greater compassion for all Ossining residents.

2019: A Year for Optimism, Forgiveness & an Inclusive Thriving Community

Inauguration PicI cherished a family filled holiday season to wrap up a very challenging year. Electoral success doesn’t wipe out a year of stress, but by the end of a New Year’s Day filled with the inauguration ceremony, OFD swearing in, and hours of celebrating with friends, family and supporters, I’m feeling exhilarated. (Do you recognize those curls? I asked Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg to administer the oath of office.) Copied below is my inauguration speech. Click here to view inauguration ceremony, queued up at the start of my speech.

“Start your day with optimism, end your day with forgiveness, and love will always be in your heart.”

These words of wisdom are from Gramma Judy. Last week this is how she closed her speech to a full room of family and friends who had gathered to celebrate her 97th birthday. Few people reach this age. Fewer still grow wiser and kinder each day, and maintain the ability to enjoy and share that wisdom. In a moment when so many of us sometimes lose our sense of optimism, and forget the importance of forgiveness—this advice is well taken.

Thankfully, Ossining has much to be optimistic about.

One thing this most recent election accomplished was clarity of vision for the village—voters in every election district want a village government guided by an engaged community and informed by experts.

In 2019, the Village of Ossining will build on our strengths as a diverse and historic Hudson River village, with a burgeoning entrepreneurial community. We have a strong foundation of knowledge from recent studies, as well as the expertise on staff, and the political will in elected office, to establish and implement a clear roadmap for the future of our village.

One of those studies was the Housing Needs Assessment that we undertook in 2017. It’s time to return to this list of recommendations, and to follow it, in order, as it was designed to serve us best. The recommendations include:

increasing leadership on economic development;

proactive building code enforcement;

expanding opportunities for mixed-use mixed-income development;

a more progressive affordable housing policy;

updating the comprehensive plan; and

improving transit options.

This is a holistic approach to addressing the greatest challenges we must overcome in our quest for a thriving community. (Click here to read the full report of recommendations from the Housing Needs Assessment.)

I am now entering my third term as mayor. With each term I have implemented new initiatives to improve connections between local government and residents. In my first term, I created Open Office Hours, and kept cameras rolling for public comments. With this most recent term, I began the Monday Mayor’s Message and embarked on a journey of Weekly Walks to explore every block of the village. (To sign up to receive the Monday Mayor’s Message each week, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.)

These efforts have established a more open and transparent government than has ever existed in our village. But these initiatives aren’t good enough. The people I am connecting with too often look too much like me.

Sometimes anger and divisiveness can be a reason for optimism… In this moment when our nation is more polarized than ever with a president who foments xenophobia, racism and isolationism, people are motivated to engage with their community in ways they never have. Right here in Ossining, this recent election shined a light on groups of people who feel underserved and disenfranchised. A goal for any municipal government should be to help its residents attain an equitable quality of life. That can only be accomplished if we find a way to bring everyone to the table, especially those who have not traditionally felt welcomed and included.

For years I have been told by experts, and colleagues, and even friends that it’s simply an unfortunate reality that the people who are going to engage with local government are going to be whiter, wealthier and older than most of the residents of our community. Every time we seek community involvement, we in government make a sincere effort to reach out in innovative ways to groups throughout the community. Time and again we make only marginal improvements. And that is not good enough.

Now is the time to try a new approach. I am proposing to my colleagues on the Village Board that we establish a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. Fortunately, we would not be the first community to undertake this kind of initiative. This week I will be sharing with village trustees examples of approaches taken in other communities. Once we have a clear goal for what we are asking of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, we will turn to you, the community and ask for you to help us become a genuinely inclusive community so that we can celebrate our diversity and experience an equitable quality of life throughout Ossining.

Ossining has many reasons to be optimistic. We are in a moment when people are investing in our community. We have leadership in the village, town, and schools that all want to work together to balance our challenges and goals. We have a clear set of recommendations to set us on our path to a thriving community for all.

The Comprehensive Plan is a major component of this undertaking. It is multi-year task that will demand significant resources from village staff and elected officials. And it all starts with you. The Village is creating a Comprehensive Plan Committee to be comprised of community members with a diversity of skills, cultures and life experiences. This Committee will work to establish the vision of who Ossining wants to be in the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

So tell me, are we all feeling optimistic? YES, and with good reason.

So, now it’s time to seek and offer forgiveness. And that begins with expressing gratitude. When you take a moment to be grateful for all of the people in your life, forgiveness comes easily.

I will begin by expressing deep gratitude to my husband and sons for supporting my reelection campaign. Four years ago we had no real idea of what to expect. We went into this campaign with our eyes open—and I think we are a little less battered this time around. During this wild year Eric opened a brewery. And Paxton and Levon learned to make their own dinner and put themselves to bed. I can’t say anything further or I’ll start crying. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their support.

Any time I run for office in Ossining there is one very important person to have on my side, our Democratic Chairwoman Thomasina Laidley-Brown. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for believing in me. You’re a woman who likes to win. For some folks that means always playing it safe. You took a chance on me four years ago, and here we are celebrating victory again.

I’d like to thank every district leader who endorsed me, every volunteer who knocked on doors, wrote letters, called voters, wrote a check, engaged in sometimes uncomfortable conversations with friends, and ultimately all those who voted.

At the core of those volunteers was a campaign team I could not have predicted, and can never thank enough. I can only hope to be judged by the company I keep. Thank you Jen Benson, Lisa Chang, Matt Curtin, Eric Gearity, Julie Johnson, Ro Moran, Christina Picciano, Suzie Ross, Dana White, and Ben Zebelman for tirelessly sharing your talents, intelligence and dedication to make the campaign a success.

As my village and town board colleagues can attest, serving in local elected office is profoundly rewarding. We know the people we are serving. We see the results of our work, and how the programs that we have fought for have improved the lives of our neighbors. In fact, all of us here today are walking on a new gym floor and lit by new LED lighting—projects that we spent hours discussing the best way to fund and implement. I am grateful to serve the people of Ossining with so many impressive elected officials in village, town, county and state government—many of whom are here today. And I am grateful to serve in village government with so many dedicated and talented employees who make this village tick year after year, regardless of who is in elected office.

And finally, I am grateful to the people of Ossining. Those who voted for me, those who voted for my opponent, those who couldn’t vote but encouraged others to. Thank you to everyone who has visited me during Open Office Hours or sent an email. Thank you to everyone who has spoken at a public meeting or responded to a survey. Special thank you to all the volunteers who serve the village in the fire department, the auxiliary police, and all of the appointed boards and committees. It takes a village to make a village run.

I will close with a final word on optimism as a way of introducing the upcoming musical selection. When Louis Armstrong recorded What a Wonderful World in the 60s he was asked what he meant by “a wonderful world” given all the wars, hunger, and pollution. Mr. Armstrong replied,

“It seems to me it ain’t the world that is so bad, but what we’re doing to it. And all I’m saying is what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”

Ossining, thank you for giving me a chance to serve another term as your mayor. Together we are accomplishing wonderful things.

Please join me in welcoming Christina Picciano performing What a Wonderful World.

 

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